Reprinted without permission from New Musical Express,
March 28, 1992
HUBBLE, BUBBLE, SOIL AND STUBBLE
London Camden Underworld - Soundgarden are the cool face of '90s rock. They're mightily heavy, but please don't let that bother you. Seattle's second most famous band are Metal's leading iconoclasts, a relief in a scene over-popularted by swanking LA glam sluts and meathead boors.
Pale, tousle-haired bassist Ben Shepherd could be a tyke in any provincial British punk band, while guitarist Kim Thayil is cool and meditative, as if religion burns in his huge brown eyes.
Sparky Saint Vitus T-shirt wearing Matt Cameron plays with a hardcore drummer's manic verve, and singer Chris Cornell oozes sexuality, but it's tightly reined, tantalisingly underplayed. His body is always under-wraps, and he's so pure he doesn't even sweat.
Soundgarden don't provide a Nirvana-type rollercoaster ride gig, punctuated by dips into breathless, desperate blow-outs and barely disguised inertia. Instead, their energies are harnessed carefully -- the set being more a series of minor and major eruptions. The minors are opener "Searching With My Good Eye Closed", and follower "Hands All Over." Both boast enormous, loping rhythms, but are never over powered.
Things trundle along in a similar fashion until the charismatic mid-set arrival of "Big Dumb Sex". It's the first major ebullition, Chris wailing furiously over blasts of precise, nagging guitars, while the crowd swings in time to the glorious line, "I'm gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you, fuck you." Then comes the heady, truculent vibes of "Face Pollution", all hot, irridescent dynamics gushing forth like molten lava. It's pure magic. Old favourites are present tonight, but it's newies like "Outshined" and encore "Somewhere" that pour aureate spirit into the one hour, 45 minute performance.
Maybe "Drawing Flies" is a Thin Lizzy pastiche and mountainous Zeppelin/Sabbath influences abound. But you still won't find any Metal bands so refreshingly contemporary and bullshit-free.
Soundgarden wrestle with the rock beast head on, and strip it of the cliches which have made it so whiffy since punk. Tonight they proved themselves to be crucial, blessed protagonists in Metal's gathering new lease of life. Stairway to heaven indeed.